Last-minute withdrawal derails W/J development |

Last-minute withdrawal derails W/J development

The application to build 52 new homes on the W/J Ranch outside of Aspen was withdrawn at the last minute last night, just moments before it would have been voted down.

Jim DeFrancia, president of Lowe W/J Inc., pulled his firm’s proposal to build a mix of free-market and affordable housing on the 234-acre property straddling the McLain Flats and Woody Creek neighborhoods after it became clear that three of Pitkin County’s five commissioners were prepared to vote against it.

The development company was proposing 12 free-market units, 12 caretaker units and 28 deed-restricted affordable housing units. In exchange for approval it was offering to place about 160 acres of the ranch under conservation easements and an upgrade of the waste-water system at the ranch.

Last night’s hearing was a continuation of the public hearing process that began Feb. 4 with the applicant’s presentation. It opened with a 90-minute presentation by the Woody Creek Caucus on all the reasons the Lowe W/J application should be denied.

Much of the caucus’s opposition was based on agreements made between the county and past owners of the ranch that appear to set much of the property that Lowe W/J wanted to develop off limits from development. The caucus also spent quite a bit of time outlining all the ways the application conflicts with the goals and policies in various master plans that guide land use in the area.

At one point near the end of the seven-hour hearing, it appeared the application was going to be denied by a unanimous vote.

But the three commissioners who have been most accepting of the application – Dorothea Farris, Shellie Roy and Patti Clapper – began casting about for ways to allow Lowe W/J to amend its application. Farris and Roy both said they would rather see an application that allowed for some affordable housing and a smaller number of free-market units.

If denied in a formal vote, Lowe W/J would have been barred from submitting another application for six months.

After Farris indicated she would nevertheless vote for denial, joining Jack Hatfield and Mick Ireland, DeFrancia withdrew the applications and promised to meet with the caucus and try to come up with something more acceptable.

The move ensures that the debate over what should be allowed at the ever-controversial W/J Ranch will continue into the coming months and, possibly, years.

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